Several Wombats received the gift of an Oculus 2 this Christmas this year, and there was talk of a game called Raccoon Lagoon that is an Oculus Store exclusive. As a mix between Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, the player’s job is to handle the needs of an island population so help them grow their settlement while also collecting parts of a damaged phoenix egg so that you, a deity of the island pantheon, can restore harmony. Or something.
I don’t have an Oculus, but I did manage to hack in the Oculus Store support through SteamVR using an open source utility called Revive. The only difference in performance is that my Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) controls aren’t mapped 1:1 with the Oculus controllers, but all functionality is present and accounted for.
I really, really love this game, and I had originally written a very long and detailed post about every aspect of the game, but I felt that I wasn’t going to do this game justice no matter how many words I threw at it; even in this condensed form I don’t feel that I’ve adequately captured everything that makes this game so special.
In The Beginning
As far as lore goes, long ago the nyms who inhabited the island fought over a phoenix egg and somehow because of their greed destroyed the egg, causing the island to go into literal meltdown. The nyms fled and never returned until a ship full of them was passing dangerously close to the island’s shoals. You are awakened to help the nyms in their time of need, and although the ship could not be saved the passengers are rescued and begin a new settlement on their ancestral island.
Get To Work
The mechanics of the game are pretty simple. Despite being a minor deity, you’re basically a collection and delivery mule. You start off by collecting easy to acquire items like starfish, shells, and bits of diftwood. Each nym or island animal has a want, and providing the items they want will grant you one of several things, including advanced resources, tools, hearts, or buildings.
The goal of the game is to find and reassemble the parts of the damaged phoenix egg, which will require you to unlock passages to different island biomes.
Animals have constant wants, and will provide constant items in exchange. Cows want wheat, and between the two or three that are present on the island, will give you butter or cheese for your trouble. Most animals are looking for simple items and provide advanced items, and those advanced items can be given to nyms for their gifts, or for constructing buildings.
Buildings offer another tier of trade. Since there’s no money in Raccoon Lagoon, items sold in shops usually requires two materials to purchase. Some shops like the barn sell seeds which can be planted to grow crops (another material) but most shops sell cosmetic items than can be used to decorate the island, or tool upgrades which are needed to harvest some advanced resources.
The most important commodity is hearts. Hearts represent the nym’s gratitude for helping them out, and can be spent to unlock passageways to new biomes or to upgrade tools beyond the starter items that you’re given. Since hearts can only be acquired either by completing tasks for nyms or by providing daily materials to a magic fountain in the center of the common biome, working towards heart collection is the motivating mechanic of the game. Management of heart spend is split between unlocking passageways and upgrading tools, which can lead to a lot of down-time necessary to work the supply chain in order to acquire materials needed for nyms with unfulfilled tasks. The overall goal, however, is to find and collect the phoenix egg parts, of which there are 8 or so, one per biome.
What About the Raccoons?
Although the game is spent collecting resources, unlocking passageways and upgrading tools, and helping out the residents of the island, there’s very little “Raccoon-ness” about the game. The only obvious connection is that you’ll see several raccoons perched around the island. Once you get into other biomes, however, raccoons will occasionally run up to you and try to steal inventory. If you bonk the thief with a tool from your inventory they’ll drop their item and scamper away, but if they get too far with their stolen goods you’ll loose that item.
On Parallels to Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley
Fans of Animal Crossing will find something to love in Raccoon Lagoon. The nyms generally roam around unless they’re trying to get a building upgraded, and they only communicate through thought bubbles which contain the items that they require. Animals are specific to home biomes, always ask for the same items (usually in sets of 3, which can be fulfilled once per day) and always provide the same items in return. However, similar animals might provide different items in exchange, like the cows, one of whom provides cheese and the other whom provides butter.
You can pet all creatures.
The Stardew Valley alignment is a little more tenuous mainly because there’s no real relationship building. You do get to farm, however, and one of the buildings that you help construct is a restaurant that allows you to combine several food items together to make more complex dishes so the farming game might be about as much Stardew as the game provides.
Early on the game is pretty easy-going, but once the need to acquire advanced materials kicks in there’s a lot of running back and forth and topping off one’s inventory of a particular item. That shop items can be had for raw materials means that I was only able to remember the prices of a few key items at any one time, which also required that I remember which critter needed what resource, and how many. If you’ve got a good memory then you won’t have any issues keeping things straight.
Raccoon Lagoon is one of the softest games I have played in a long time. Everything about the game is calm, relaxed, and adorable, and despite the visage of the volcano looming over everything, there are no jump-scares, no enemies (aside from the annoying raccoons), and no time-limits. The environments are very well rendered, not overlarge, and contain a good amount of resources and critters to interact with. All animals are extremely cute and have their own vocalizations, some of which are a bit gruff, but all are within the range of “cute”. I could easily recommend this for parents with younger children (who are allowed to use a VR headset, of course), although every “day” ends with a sky-darkening thunderstorm that can get pretty loud, and the nyms shake in fear during this time which might be a concern for more empathetic players.
Although I’d have liked to have an Oculus 2 this Christmas, I’m glad that I was able to get access to their “exclusive” storefront in order to acquire Raccoon Lagoon. I am sad that the game is an Oculus exclusive; I believe that while walled gardens are a poison in general, limiting access and exposure for a product aimed at what is already a niche platform (VR) can’t be good when a product deserves wider appreciation as I believe Raccoon Lagoon most certainly does. Although the game isn’t overly long nor painfully short (I’m in it for about 4 or 5 hours, I suspect, and am almost at the end of game), I do wish there was more. After the phoenix egg has been assembled, the player can continue to help the nyms with their tasks, and there is a form of multiplayer to allow others to visit your island. DLC for this game would be an instant buy for me, ideally in the form of either an expanded island or a whole new landscape. Hopefully the developers have the interest and resources to make that happen, because I’ll be sad when my time in Raccoon Lagoon is complete.